What is a leopon?

What is a leopon? A leopon is a cross between a male leopard and a lioness. These hybrids have been bred on a number of occasions in zoos. There are records of them being in zoos in Italy and Japan. In Japan they have been exhibited at the Hanshin Park Zoo and the Koshien Zoo.

The best website to find out about this rare wild cat hybrid is messybeast.com. Sarah Hartwell is the world authority on these hybrids. I will therefore use her expertise as the source for this page.

What is a leopon?
Photos: Koshien Zoo. I have taken the liberty of publishing these photos here under fair use for educational purposes. If you click on the image you’ll be taken to a larger version.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

In addition being in zoos in Japan they have been bred in zoos in India and Germany. A leopon was apparently exhibited in Regent’s Park zoo, London which was more like a leopard than a lion. There is a report of this hybridization occurring naturally in the wild when a lioness was expelled from a pride. She formed an alliance with a male leopard. The leopard mated with her when she was in heat.

The best-known leopon breeding program was at Koshien Hanshin Park in Nishinomiya City, Japan. A lioness whose name was Sonoko mated with a leopard, Kaneo. The leopon hybrid was popular with the public but the breeding program was criticized by other zoos and by animal welfare advocates.

A lot of preparation went into the mating between these two cat species including carefully choosing their food with added hormones. The size difference in these cats presented a barrier and almost caused the program to be abandoned but three matings were witnessed in March and June 1959. The lioness became pregnant in September and the cubs were born after 97 days gestation which was several days earlier than expected.

Jaglion – a lion, jaguar hybrid


The leopon is larger than the leopard and takes after the lion in terms of size (almost as large as the lioness mother). They have shorter leopard-like legs and “stout lion-like bodies”. They like water which is more a leopard characteristic and they also climb like leopards. The leopard is a better climber than the lion. The adult male leopon has a sparse mane about 20 cm in length. The female leopon’s personality lies between the solitary nature of the leopard and the social nature of the lioness (they live in prides). The Japanese leopons were sterile. The last one died in 1985.

They were stuffed and displayed at the zoo but I believe it has since closed. Sarah Hartwell says that two stuffed leopons are currently at the National Science Museum in Tokyo for scientific research. Others are displayed in Nishinomiya City (located in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan, between the cities of Amagasaki and Ashiya).

7 thoughts on “What is a leopon?”

    • I am afraid I don’t have that information but the weight is going to be somewhere between the the average weights of these species but there may be hybrid vigor which increases size. Sorry that I can’t be of more help to you.

    • Thank you Julia for asking. I am not sure that I can provide a good answer. There are very few cats of this type on the planet. They are all captive. Therefore there is little to go on. However, both the leopard and the lion are well known as are their characteristics. In fact the lion and leopard have very similar characteristics because are both big cats and both top predators and of course they are both cats. Although of course the lionesses lives in prides and the leopard is a solitary animal. That certainly has a bearing on how they behave.

      I would not expect this hybrid to have characteristics which are very different to those of the leopard all the lion. It will be a typical big cat with the usual cat characteristics which you can read about when studying the leopard all the lion or even a domestic cat. The domestic cat is very similar in behavioural characteristics to the big cats.

  1. I have to agree with you on your extract about the Jaglion.

    Nature is so varied and wonderous, why do humans have to keep buggering about trying to better what nature does so effectively over thousands of years?

    Something is always lost in these husbandry follies, these animals should not exist.


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